Viewing Restraint

Over the weekend, I settled in to watch two artsy movies: Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus starring Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Barney: No Restraint, a documentary of the making of Drawing Restraint 9, the latest in a series of his projects.I found Fur problematic, as anyone familiar with Arbus’ work is curious to know the real story behind her life. You won’t get that curiosity satisfied here. After watching the train wreck of a movie (you try, but you can’t look away), I had to guess which moments were invented. I won’t give any of the film away, but there is a scene involving a razor and one very hairy neighbor. You can read the Rotten Tomatoes review here. What I did take away from this movie, though, was Arbus’ (and any artist’s) need to carve a separate path–even if the fallout is alienation from those we love. Tough stuff.

Next, I watched the Barney documentary with a few grains of salt(ed popcorn). I’m not a HUGE fan of performance or conceptual art, but I felt there had to be something to this man, considered one of the most important artists of our time and who captured the heart of Icelandic singer Bjork.

In the documentary, Barney (who considers himself predominately a sculptor) boards a Japanese whaling ship intending to fill a mold with 45,000 lbs of petroleum jelly. Once the mold is filled and the substance settles, the mold is removed and you’re left watching the stuff move glacier-like. It’s definielty more sensual than appetizing. There’s more to the film of course, including an interesting take on a traditional Japanese tea ceremory starring Bjork herself.

The theme of this, and the previous eight projects in the series, is the exploration of the artist and some manner of resistance. In his first Drawing Restraint, I think Barney tethered and otherwise hindered himself whilst attempting to make marks on a wall. The drawings aren’t much to look at (therein lies my problem with performance/conceptual art), but the point is well-made. Much like an athlete (Barney, by the way, was a high school football star) resistance, hurdles and obstacles  challenge an artist to improve his work. And perhaps they’re what make art necessary in the first place.

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